Grace Notes For a Year

Cover of Grace Notes

Grace Notes For a Year:
Stories of Hope, Humor, and Hubris From the World of Classical Music

Updated 2020 edition:

Meet a 19-year-old cellist who began a 67-year conducting career on the spur of the moment. A horn player who changed his name to avoid having his front teeth knocked out! An 18-year-old street fighter named Johann Sebastian Bach. And Mops the dog, who settled an important musical controversy.

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“The English Musical Detectives ”

The two Englishmen were musical detectives. One of them, Sir George Grove, had taken a fancy to a rather obscure Viennese composer named Franz Schubert, and had conducted what few Schubert works were in print, much to the delight of London audiences. A beautiful fragment of Schubert’s music called Rosamunde fascinated Grove.

In 1867 Grove and a young friend set out for the Continent to look for the rest of the Rosamunde manuscript. Their search led them to Vienna to the publishing house run by a Herr Spina. Spina was a cordial host. He kept the two Englishmen well supplied with cigars, plus paper and pens for copying any manuscript that struck their fancy. He also gave them a letter of introduction to a relative of Schubert’s, a doctor, in whose house they found a Schubert overture and two symphonies. But the beautiful Rosamunde continued to elude them.

Herr Spina turned the publishing house upside down, opening half-forgotten drawers and musty cupboards, stacking up bundles of old manuscripts without success. Discouraged, the Englishmen concluded that a complete score to Rosamnde might never have existed or that Schubert had lost it. Reluctantly they decided to leave Vienna. They went to say good-bye to the doctor. The subject of the elusive Rosamunde came up. The doctor thought that at one time he had owned a copy of the entire music. The young Englishman asked if he might go into the cupboard for one last search. The doctor said, by all means, if you don’t mind being choked with dust. As he dug into the farthest corner of the cupboard, the young man found a bundle of music books nearly two feet high and practically black from almost half a century of dust.

It was the long-lost Rosamunde, wrapped up after the second performance of December 1823 and untouched since. The discovery was a major accomplishment for the twenty-five-year-old Englishman, but within a decade he would become far better known for something else–his collaborations with a poet named William S. Gilbert. And few would remember that the discoverer of Schubert masterpieces was Sir Arthur Sullivan.